Letterpress printing is a technique of relief printing using a printing press, a process by which many copies are produced by repeated direct impression of an inked, raised surface against sheets or a continuous roll of paper. A worker composes and locks movable type into the "bed" or "chase" of a press, inks it, and presses paper against it to transfer the ink from the type which creates an impression on the paper.
In practice, letterpress also includes other forms of relief printing with printing presses, such as wood engravings, photo-etched zinc "cuts" (plates), and linoleum blocks, which can be used alongside metal type, or wood type, in a single operation, as well as stereotypes and electrotypes of type and blocks. With certain letterpress units it is also possible to join movable type with slugs cast using hot metal typesetting. In theory, anything that is "type high" or .918 inches can be printed using letterpress.
Letterpress printing was the normal form of printing text from its invention by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century until the 19th century and remained in wide use for books and other uses until the second half of the 20th century. Letterpress printing remained the primary way to print and distribute information until the 20th century, when offset printing was developed, which largely supplanted its role in printing books and newspapers. All forms of data collection were affected by the invention of letterpress printing, as were many careers such as teachers, preachers, physicians and surgeons and artist-engineers. More recently, letterpress printing has seen a revival in an artisanal form.
Johannes Gutenberg is credited with the development in the western hemisphere, in about 1440, of modern movable type printing from individually cast, reusable letters set together in a form (frame or chase). Movable type was first invented in China using ceramic type in 1040 AD. Gutenberg also invented a wooden printing press, based on the extant wine press, where the type surface was inked with leather-covered ink balls and paper laid carefully on top by hand, then slid under a padded surface and pressure applied from above by a large threaded screw. It was Gutenberg's "screw press" or hand press that was used to print 180 copies of the Bible. At 1,282 pages, it took him and his staff of 20 almost 3 years to complete. 48 copies remain intact today. This form of presswork gradually replaced the hand-copied manuscripts of scribes and illuminators as the most prevalent form of printing. Printers' workshops, previously unknown in Europe before the mid-15th century, were found in every important metropolis by 1500. Later metal presses used a knuckle and lever arrangement instead of the screw, but the principle was the same. Ink rollers made of composition made inking faster and paved the way for further automation.
With the advent of industrial mechanisation, inking was carried out by rollers that passed over the face of the type, then moved out of the way onto an ink plate to pick up a fresh film of ink for the next sheet. Meanwhile, a sheet of paper slid against a hinged platen (see image), which then rapidly pressed onto the type and swung back again as the sheet was removed and the next sheet inserted. As the fresh sheet of paper replaced the printed paper, the now freshly inked rollers ran over the type again. Fully automated 20th-century presses, such as the Kluge and "Original" Heidelberg Platen (the "Windmill"), incorporated pneumatic sheet feed and delivery.
Rotary presses were used for high-speed work. In the oscillating press, the form slid under a drum around which each sheet of paper got wrapped for the impression, sliding back under the inking rollers while the paper was removed and a new sheet inserted. In a newspaper press, a papier-mâché mixture called a flong used to make a mould of the entire form of type, then dried and bent, and a curved metal stereotype plate cast against it. The plates were clipped to a rotating drum and could print against a continuous reel of paper at the enormously high speeds required for overnight newspaper production. This invention helped aid the high demand for knowledge during this time period.
Letterpress printing was introduced in Canada in 1752 in Halifax, Nova Scotia by John Bushell in the newspaper format. This paper was named the Halifax Gazette and became Canada's first newspaper. Bushell apprenticed under Bartholomew Green in Boston. Green moved to Halifax in 1751 in hopes of starting a newspaper, as it did not exist in the area. Two weeks and a day after the press he was going to use for this new project arrived in Halifax, Green died. Upon receiving word about what happened, Bushell moved to Halifax and continued what Green had started. The Halifax Gazette was first published on March 23, 1752, making Bushell the first letterpress printer in Halifax, and eventually Canada. There is only one known surviving copy which was found in the Massachusetts Historical Society.
One of the first forms of letterpress printing in the United States was Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick started by Benjamin Harris. This was the first form of a newspaper with multiple pages in the Americas. The first publication of Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick was September 25, 1690.
Letterpress started to become largely out-of-date in the 1970s because of the rise of computers and new self-publishing print and publish methods. Many printing establishments went out of business from the 1980s to 1990s and sold their equipment after computers replaced letterpress's abilities more efficiently. These commercial print shops discarded presses, making them affordable and available to artisans throughout the country. Popular presses are, in particular, Vandercook cylinder proof presses and Chandler & Price platen presses. In the UK there is particular affection for the Arab press, built by Josiah Wade in Halifax. Letterpress recently has had a rebirth in popularity because of the "allure of hand-set type" and the differences today between traditional letterpress and computerized printed text. Letterpress is unique and different from standard printing formats that we are currently used to. Letterpress commonly features a relief impression of the type, although this was considered bad printing in traditional letterpress. Letterpress's goal before the recent revival of letterpress was to not show any impression. The type touched the paper slightly to leave a transfer of ink, but did not leave an impression. This is often referred to as "the kiss" An example of this former technique would be newspapers. Some letterpress practitioners today have the distinct goal of showing the impression of type, to distinctly note that it is letterpress but many printers choose to maintain the integrity of the traditional methods. Printing with too much impression is destructive to both the machines and to the type. Since its revival letterpress has largely been used for fine art and stationery as its traditional use for newspaper printing is no longer relevant for use.
Letterpress is considered a craft as it involves using a skill and is done by hand. Fine letterpress work is crisper than offset litho because of its impression into the paper, giving greater visual definition to the type and artwork, although it is not what letterpress traditionally was meant for. Today, many of these small letterpress shops survive by printing fine editions of books or by printing upscale invitations, stationery, and greeting cards. These methods often use presses that require the press operator to feed paper one sheet at a time by hand. Today, the juxtaposition of this technique and offbeat humor for greeting cards has been proven by letterpress shops to be marketable to independent boutiques and gift shops. Some of these printmakers are just as likely to use new printing methods as old, for instance by printing using photopolymer plates on restored vintage presses.
Letterpress publishing has recently undergone a revival in the USA, Canada, and the UK, under the general banner of the "Small Press Movement". Renewed interest in letterpress was fueled by Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, which began using pictures of letterpress invitations in the 1990s. In 2004 they state "Great care is taken in choosing the perfect wedding stationery – couples ponder details from the level of formality to the flourishes of the typeface. The method of printing should be no less important, as it can enliven the design exquisitely. That is certainly the case with letterpress." In regards to having printed letterpress invitations, the beauty and texture became appealing to couples who began wanting letterpress invitations instead of engraved, thermographed, or offset-printed invitations.
The movement has been helped by the emergence of a number of organizations that teach letterpress such as Columbia College Chicago's Center for Book and Paper Arts, Art Center College of Design and Armory Center for the Arts both in Pasadena, Calif., New York's Center for Book Arts, Studio on the Square and The Arm NYC, the Wells College Book Arts Center in Aurora, New York, the San Francisco Center for the Book, Bookworks, Seattle's School of Visual Concepts, Olympia's The Evergreen State College, Black Rock Press, North Carolina State University, Washington D.C's Corcoran College of Art and Design, Penland School of Crafts, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA, Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA, and the Bowehouse Press at VCU in Richmond, VA.
Affordable copper, magnesium and photopolymer platemakers and milled aluminum bases have allowed letterpress printers to produce type and images derived from digital artwork, fonts and scans. Economical plates have encouraged the rise of "digital letterpress" in the 21st century, allowing a small number of firms to flourish commercially and enabling a larger number of boutique and hobby printers to avoid the limitations and complications of acquiring and composing metal type. At the same time there has been a renaissance in small-scale type foundries to produce new metal type on Monotype equipment, Thompson casters and the original American Type Founders machines.
The process of letterpress printing consists of several stages: composition, imposition and lock-up, and printing. In a small shop, all would occur in a single room, whereas in larger printing plants, such as with urban newspapers and magazines, each might form a distinct department with its own room, or even floor.
Composition, or typesetting, is the stage where pieces of movable type are assembled to form the desired text. The person charged with composition is called a "compositor" or "typesetter", setting letter by letter and line by line.
Traditionally, as in manual composition, it involves selecting the individual type letters from a type case, placing them in a composing stick, which holds several lines, then transferring those to a larger type galley. By this method the compositor gradually builds out the text of an individual page letter by letter. In mechanical typesetting, it may involve using a keyboard to select the type, or even cast the desired type on the spot, as in hot metal typesetting, which are then added to a galley designed for the product of that process. The first keyboard-actuated typesetting machines to be widely accepted, the Linotype and the Monotype, were introduced in the 1890s.
The Ludlow Typograph Machine, for casting of type-high slugs from hand-gathered brass matrices, was first manufactured in Chicago in 1912 and was widely used until the 1980s. Many are still in use and although no longer manufactured, service and parts are still available for them.
After a galley is assembled to fill a page's worth of type, the type is tied together into a single unit so that it may be transported without falling apart. From this bundle a galley proof is made, which is inspected by a proof-reader to make sure that the particular page is accurate.
Broadly, imposition or imposing is the process by which the tied assemblages of type are converted into a form (or forme) ready to use on the press. A person charged with imposition is a stoneman or stonehand, doing their work on a large, flat imposition stone (though some later ones were instead made of iron).
In the more specific modern sense, imposition is the technique of arranging the various pages of type with respect to one another. Depending on page size and the sheet of paper used, several pages may be printed at once on a single sheet. After printing, these are cut and trimmed before folding or binding. In these steps, the imposition process ensures that the pages face the right direction and in the right order with the correct margins. Printing formes are put together in multiples of 12 pages. The stonehand arranges the pages in such a way that the folios (page numbers) of facing pages add up to the form's total + 1 (12 + 1 = 13, 24 + 1 = 25 etc.)
Low-height pieces of wood or metal furniture are added to make up the blank areas of a page. The printer uses a mallet to strike a wooden block, which ensures tops (and only the tops) of the raised type blocks are all aligned so they will contact a flat sheet of paper simultaneously.
Lock-up is the final step before printing. The printer removes the cords that hold the type together, and turns the quoins with a key or lever to lock the entire complex of type, blocks, furniture, and chase (frame) into place. This creates the final forme, which the printer takes to the printing press. In a newspaper setting, each page needs a truck to be transported – 2 pages need 2 trucks hence the term double truck. The first copy is proofed again for errors before starting the printing run.
The working of the printing process depends on the type of press used, as well as any of its associated technologies (which varied by time period).
Hand presses generally required two people to operate them: one to ink the type, the other to work the press. Later mechanized jobbing presses require a single operator to feed and remove the paper, as the inking and pressing are done automatically.
The completed sheets are then taken to dry and for finishing, depending on the variety of printed matter being produced. With newspapers, they are taken to a folding machine. Sheets for books are sent for bookbinding.
You can distinguish a traditional letterpress printer from a digital printer by its debossed lettering. A traditional letterpress printer made a heavy impression into the stock and producing any indentation at all into the paper would have resulted in the print run being rejected. Part of the skill of operating a traditional letterpress printer was to adjust the machine pressures just right so that the type just kissed the paper, transferring the minimum amount of ink to create the crispest print with no indentation. This was very important as when the print exited the machine and was stacked having too much wet ink and an indentation would have increased the risk of set-off (ink passing from the front of one sheet onto the back of the next sheet on the stack).
The letterpress printing process remained virtually unchanged until the 1950s when it was replaced with the more efficient and commercially viable offset printing process. The labor-intensive nature of the typesetting and need to store vast amounts of lead or wooden type resulted in the letterpress printing process falling out of favour.
In the 1980s dedicated letterpress practitioners revived the old craft by embracing a new manufacturing method which allowed them to create raised surface printing plates from a negative and a photopolymer plate.
Photopolymer plates are light sensitive. On one side the surface is cured when it is exposed to ultraviolet light and other side is a metal or plastic backing that can be mounted on a base. The relief printing surface is created by placing a negative of the piece to be printed on the photosensitive side of the plate; the light passing through the clear regions of the negative causes the photopolymer to harden. The unexposed areas remain soft and can be washed away with water.
With these new printing plates, designers were no longer inhibited by the limitations of handset wooden or lead type. New design possibilities emerged and the letterpress printing process experienced a revival. Today it is in high demand for wedding stationery however there are limitations to what can be printed and designers must adhere to some design for letterpress principles.
The invention of ultra-violet curing inks has helped keep the rotary letterpress alive in areas like self-adhesive labels. There is also still a large amount of flexographic printing, a similar process, which uses rubber plates to print on curved or awkward surfaces, and a lesser amount of relief printing from huge wooden letters for lower-quality poster work.
Rotary letterpress machines are still used on a wide scale for printing self-adhesive and non-self-adhesive labels, tube laminate, cup stock, etc. The printing quality achieved by a modern letterpress machine with UV curing is on par with flexo presses. It is more convenient and user friendly than a flexo press. It uses water-wash photopolymer plates, which are as good as any solvent-washed flexo plate. Today even CtP (computer-to-plate) plates are available making it a full-fledged, modern printing process. Because there is no anilox roller in the process, the make-ready time also goes down when compared to a flexo press. Inking is controlled by keys very much similar to an offset press. UV inks for letterpress are in paste form, unlike flexo. Various manufacturers produce UV rotary letterpress machines, viz. Dashen, Nickel, Taiyo Kikai, KoPack, Gallus, etc. – and offer hot/cold foil stamping, rotary die cutting, flatbed die cutting, sheeting, rotary screen printing, adhesive side printing, and inkjet numbering. Central impression presses are more popular than inline presses due to their ease of registration and simple design. Printing of up to nine colours plus varnish is possible with various online converting processes. But as the letterpress machines are the same like a decade before, they can furthermore only be used with one colour of choice simultaneously. If there are more colours needed, they have to be exchanged one after the other.
Letterpress can produce work of high quality at high speed, but it requires much time to adjust the press for varying thicknesses of type, engravings, and plates called makeready. The process requires a high degree of craftsmanship, but in the right hands, letterpress excels at fine typography. It is used by many small presses that produce fine, handmade, limited-edition books, artists' books, and high-end ephemera such as greeting cards and broadsides. Because of the time needed to make letterpress plates and to prepare the press, setting type by hand has become less common with the invention of the photopolymer plate, a photosensitive plastic sheet that can be mounted on metal to bring it up to type high.
To bring out the best attributes of letterpress, printers must understand the capabilities and advantages of what can be a very unforgiving medium. For instance, since most letterpress equipment prints only one color at a time, printing multiple colors requires a separate press run in register with the preceding color. When offset printing arrived in the 1950s, it cost less, and made the color process easier. The inking system on letterpress equipment is the same as offset presses, posing problems for some graphics. Detailed, white (or "knocked out") areas, such as small, serif type, or very fine halftone surrounded by fields of color can fill in with ink and lose definition if Rollers are not adjusted correctly. However, a skilled printer overcomes most of these problems. However, a letterpress provides the option of a wider range of paper, including handmade, organic, and tree-free. Letterpress printing provides a wide range of production choices. The classic feel and finish of letterpress papers takes printing back to an era of quality and craftsmanship. Even the smell of the ink, more apparent on a letterpress-printed page than with offset, may appeal to collectors.
While less common in contemporary letterpress printing, it is possible to print halftone photographs, via photopolymer plates. However, letterpress printing's strengths are crisp lines, patterns, and typography.
Creating files for letterpress is similar to conventional printing.
Several dozen colleges and universities around the United States have either begun or re-activated programs teaching letterpress printing in fully equipped facilities. In many cases these letterpress shops are affiliated with the college's library or art department, and in others they are independent, student-run operations or extracurricular activities sponsored by the college. The College & University Letterpress Printers' Association (CULPA) was founded in 2006 by Abigail Uhteg at the Maryland Institute College of Art to help these schools stay connected and share resources. Many universities offer degree programs such as: Oregon College of Art and Craft, Southwest School of Art, Middle Tennessee State University, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Indiana University, Miami University, Corcoran College of Art and Design, and Rochester Institute of Technology.
The current renaissance of letterpress printing has created a crop of hobby press shops that are owner-operated and driven by a love of the craft. Several larger printers have added an environmental component to the venerable art by using only wind-generated electricity to drive their presses and plant equipment. Notably, a few small boutique letterpress shops are using only solar power.
In Berkeley, California, letterpress printer and lithographer David Goines maintains a studio with a variety of platen and cylinder letterpresses as well as lithography presses. He has drawn attention both from commercial printers and fine artists for his wide knowledge and meticulous skill with letterpress printing. He collaborated with restaurateur and free speech activist Alice Waters, the owner of Chez Panisse, on her book 30 Recipes Suitable for Framing. He has created strikingly colorful large posters for such Bay Area businesses and institutions as Acme Bread and UC Berkeley.
In London, St Bride Library houses a large collection of letterpress information in its collection of 50,000 books: all the classic works on printing technique, visual style, typography, graphic design, calligraphy and more. This is one of the world's foremost collections and is located off Fleet Street in the heart of London's old printing and publishing district. In addition, regular talks, conferences, exhibitions and demonstrations take place.
The St Bride Institute, Edinburgh College of Art, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, The Arts University Bournemouth, Plymouth University, University for the Creative Arts Farnham, London College of Communication and Camberwell College of the Arts London run short courses in letterpress as well as offering these facilities as part of their Graphic Design Degree Courses.
The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin houses one of the largest collections of wood type and wood cuts in the world inside one of the Hamilton Manufacturing Company's factory buildings. Also included are presses and vintage prints. The museum holds many workshops and conferences throughout the year and regularly welcomes groups of students from Universities from across the United States.
In 2011 John Bonadies and Jeff Adams created a virtual letterpress that runs on an iPad (and later the Mac) and replicates each step of the letterpress process. LetterMpress was funded from a Kickstarter campaign enabling the developers to collect and digitize wood type from around the world. The app's press is modeled after a Vandercook SP-15 (considered to be a top-of-the-line proof press in its time, and coveted by artists and designers today).
In 2015 a renaissance of letterpress printing by artists is widely acknowledged.
The Albion press is a model of early iron hand printing press, originally designed and manufactured in London by Richard Whittaker Cope (d. 1828?) around 1820. It worked by a simple toggle action, unlike the complex lever-mechanism of the Columbian press and the Stanhope press. Albions continued to be manufactured, in a range of sizes, until the 1930s. They were used for commercial book-printing until the middle of the nineteenth century, and thereafter chiefly for proofing, jobbing work and by private presses. Francis Meynell often used an Albion to proof pages of his designs for Nonesuch Press books, and printed some small books and ephemera using the press.
After Cope's death, Albions were manufactured by his heirs and members of the Hopkinson family (trading initially as 'Jonathan and Jeremiah Barrett' and later as 'Hopkinson and Cope'), who are said to have improved the design. From the 1850s onwards Albion presses were manufactured under licence by other firms, notably Harrild & Sons, Miller and Richard, and Frederick Ullmer Ltd. The toggle-action, and the distinctive shape and 'crown' finial of the Albion, make it instantly recognizable.Brayer
A brayer is a hand-tool used historically in printing and printmaking to break up and "rub out" (spread) ink before it was "beaten" using inking balls or composition rollers. The word is derived from the verb to "bray", meaning "to break, pound, or grind small, as in a mortar". A brayer consists of a short wooden cylinder with a handle fitted to one end; the other, flat end is used to rub the ink. In the late nineteenth century the term was applied in the United States to a small hand-roller, "used for spreading ink on the inking table, and for applying it to the distributing plates or rollers connected with presses". Such small rollers were sold as "brayers" from at least 1912 and later in the century the term was applied in the U.S. to hand-rollers of all sorts and sizes. It retains its original meaning in Europe.Chase (printing)
A chase is a heavy steel frame used to hold type in a letterpress. Most of the space in the chase not occupied with type is filled with blocks of wood called furniture. The type and furniture are locked in place by quoins. When a chase is locked up with type, furniture, and quoins, it is called a forme.Composing stick
In letterpress printing and typesetting, a composing stick is a tool used to assemble pieces of metal type into words and lines, which are then transferred to a galley before being locked into a forme and printed. Many composing sticks have one adjustable end, allowing the length of the lines and consequent width of the page or column to be set, with spaces and quadrats of different sizes being used to make up the exact width. Early composing sticks often had a fixed measure, as did many used in setting type for newspapers, which were fixed to the width of a standard column, when newspapers were still composed by hand.
The compositor takes the pieces of type from the boxes (compartments) of the type case and places them in the composing stick, working from left to right and placing the letters upside-down with the nick to the top.
Early composing sticks were made of wood, but later iron, brass, steel, aluminium, pewter and other metals were used. Wooden composing sticks continued to be made in large sizes into the nineteenth century, for setting wood letter and other large sizes of type for display. In the industrial age, composing sticks were manufactured by many companies, but notably in America by the H. B. Rouse company, which made composing sticks that were adjustable to the half pica, as well as a stick containing a micrometer that was infinitely adjustable. Some sticks were marked in agates as well, to aid in newspaper and advertisement composition.Composition roller
A composition roller is a tool used in letterpress printing to apply ink to a bed of type in a printing press. It consists of a cylinder made of a substance known as "roller composition" or simply "composition", a mixture of glue and sugar (in the form of molasses or treacle), with various additives such as glycerin depending on the particular recipe. Early recipes also included gypsum plaster and tar, though these were eventually found unnecessary.Before its invention, most inking of printing presses was done by manually pounding the type with ink balls, specially treated leather balls stuffed with wool. The difficulty and time involved in making and using ink balls led to various attempts to use cylinders, which could be rolled rather than pounded. Leather rollers (or "skin rollers") were attempted, and were used on the earliest steam-powered cylinder presses, yet these did not work as well as the ink balls, and the stitching seam would appear on the printed type.Eventually, a substance was found with the right adhesion and elasticity to make suitable cylindrical rollers. Composition for use in inking was developed in England in the 1810s by Robert Harrild and another individual named Forster; they first used it for making ink balls, though they soon turned to making rollers. Bryan Donkin was the first to apply the composition roller to machine press. By 1826, they had begun to be introduced to the United States.To make a roller, the ingredients are melted together in a double-boiler kettle. The process is timed to avoid candying the molasses. The mixture is cast into molds around a wooden or metal "stock" or core, which after cooling and seasoning is then hooked onto the handle or printing press.The performance of composition rollers was notoriously subject to their environmental conditions. Composition rollers tend to quickly dry out, shrink, and harden, and as a result are typically stored in sealed cabinets called "roller closets", often with a thin layer ink left on the roller as a form of protection. Glycerin, which has an affinity for moisture, was eventually added to the recipe, yet that in turn could cause trouble in warm humid weather where too much moisture would be absorbed. The mixture itself varied depending on the time of year in which they were made, with winter rollers sometimes melting in summer, and rollers made in the summer becoming brittle in winter. However, composition rollers that hardened or otherwise were unusable could be melted down and recast.By the turn of the 20th century, composition rollers were mass-manufactured by various companies, using machines that could cast several rollers at once, using a mixture containing more glycerin than molasses.Forme (printing)
In typesetting, a forme (or form) is imposed by a stoneman working on a flat imposition stone when he assembles the loose components of a page (or number of simultaneously printed pages) into a locked arrangement, inside a chase, ready for printing.Grabhorn Institute
The Grabhorn Institute is a nonprofit organization formed in October 2000 for the purpose of preserving and continuing the operation of one of the last integrated facilities for typefounding, letterpress printing, and bookbinding in the fine press tradition, as a living museum and educational and cultural center. It is named in honor of the brothers Edwin and Robert Grabhorn, who established the Grabhorn Press in San Francisco in 1920. The press was "one of the foremost producers of finely printed books in twentieth-century America."The Grabhorn Institute was founded when Andrew Hoyem, the proprietor of the Arion Press (the successor to the Grabhorn Press), and the type foundry M & H Type, facing eviction from their location in San Francisco in 2000, confronted the logistical and financial problem of moving over 140 tons of metal type plus heavy iron and steel printing presses and typecasting and bookbinding equipment to a suitable new facility. The press and foundry comprised a complete, traditional bookmaking facility, including the last large-scale hot metal type foundry in the country.
Support raised by the Grabhorn Institute enabled Arion and M & H to relocate to the Presidio of San Francisco as a cultural tenant in April 2001. In recognition of its work to preserve the typecasting and letterpress printing operation, the Grabhorn Institute was designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as part of "the nation's irreplaceable historical and cultural legacy" under its Save America's Treasures program.Activities of the Grabhorn Institute include exhibits and lectures related to fine printing and book arts and an apprenticeship program to preserve the crafts of typecasting, letterpress printing, and bookbinding. It also conducts tours of the historic production facility, which includes the M & H Type foundry, established in 1915 with Monotype typecasting machines that came to San Francisco for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition; twelve letterpress printing presses; a bindery for hand bookbinding; and a large collection of rare typefaces passed down from the Grabhorn brothers and the noted San Francisco printer John Henry Nash.
According to Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, "The collaboration among Arion Press, M & H Type, and the Grabhorn Institute is a model for preserving historic manufacturing equipment, keeping alive disappearing crafts, and printing beautiful artifacts—all in one enterprise."The Grabhorn Institute received a California Heritage Council Award in 2002 for "preservation of the last fully functioning type foundry and integrated letterpress printing facility."Ink ball
An ink ball, inking ball, or dabber was a tool used in printmaking and letterpress printing to apply ink to the plate or type to be printed.
Ink balls had been used since the dawn of the printing press in the 15th century. In printmaking, they were used individually, to make the ink smooth and applying it. In letterpress printing, they were used in pairs: ink was placed on one of the two balls, which were then held together and worked around until a proper thickness, consistency, and uniformity was reached. The inker then "beat" the type to apply the ink, making sure to get neither too much nor too little ink on the form.An ink ball consists of a piece of specially-treated sheepskin stuffed with wool, with wooden cupped rod as a handle ("stock"). After the invention of composition (a mixture of glue, molasses, and tar) in the early 19th century, some ink balls began to be made from that until they faded from use.By the mid- to late-19th century, they had been largely superseded by the composition roller and the rubber roller or "brayer". The replacing of the labor-intensive ink balls, which had to be worked by hand, with mechanized rollers was a key factor to the growth of mechanized printing machines in the 19th century.Jericho Press
The Jericho Press is the private press of J.F. Coakley, founded in 1985. It is named after Jericho, Oxford.Jobbing press
A jobbing press, job press, (or jobber) is a variety of printing press used in letterpress printing.
The press is meant to be operated by a pressman working on small jobs, as opposed to long print runs or newspaper work, or jobs that require less than a full-sized sheet of paper, though the definition of "small jobs" may vary widely depending on the printing shop. Such work might include printing personal stationery, handbills, or other small printing jobs, or may include even a small book. Such presses were common in the later 19th and 20th centuries, have yet been largely replaced by the photocopier for small and medium runs, and by the desktop computer for personal stationery. Today, the jobber is the preferred press for letterpress printers who now produce high-end prints (often wedding invitations) for customers who want an antique effect.
Though the term can refer to any small printing press or machine intended for such work, it most commonly refers to a class of small, vertical platen presses.
Depending on the time-period when the machine was made, they may be operated by treadle, line shaft, electricity, or by hand lever.Matrix (printing)
In the manufacture of metal type used in letterpress printing, a matrix, from the Latin meaning womb or a female breeding animal, is the mould used to cast a letter, known as a sort. Matrices for printing types were made of copper.However, in printmaking the matrix is whatever is used, with ink, to hold the image that makes up the print, whether a plate in etching and engraving or a woodblock in woodcut.Minnesota Center for Book Arts
Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA) is the largest and most comprehensive independent nonprofit book arts center in the United States. Located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, MCBA is a nationally recognized leader in the celebration and preservation of traditional crafts, including hand papermaking, letterpress printing and hand bookbinding, as well as the use of these traditional techniques by contemporary artists in creating new artists' books and artwork.Original Heidelberg Platen Press
The Original Heidelberg Platen Press was a letterpress printing press manufactured by the Heidelberger Druckmaschinen company in Germany. It was often referred to as the "Windmill", after the shape and movement of its paper feed system. When introduced, it was also called the "Super Heidelberg" or the "Super Speed".Platen
A platen (or platten) is a flat platform with a variety of roles in printing or manufacturing. It can be a flat metal (or earlier, wooden) plate pressed against a medium (such as paper) to cause an impression in letterpress printing. Platen may also refer to a typewriter roller which friction-feeds paper into position below the typebars or print head, it can refer to the glass surface of a copier, or it can refer to the rotating disk used to polish semiconductor wafers.Quoin (printing)
A quoin is a device used to lock printing type in a chase. Quoins are pairs of wedges, facing opposite directions. A wrench or quoin key forces them together.Rocket Press
The Rocket Press is a private press founded in 1981 by Jonathan Stephenson.Tympan
Tympan means skin, and is used in a variety of technical meanings.
AstrolabesIn an astrolabe, a tympan is a metal plate on which the coordinates of the celestial sphere (azimuth and altitude) are engraved in a stereographic projection. A tympan is specific to a particular latitude, so most astrolabes come with a set of interchangeable tympans suitable for use at different latitudes, usually those of particular cities of importance (Cairo, Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem...).
PrintingIn hand-operated letterpress printing, the bruzer tympan is the taut cloth or paper mounted in a frame which is placed over the sheet of paper immediately prior to lowering the platen to make the impression.Bruzer's Tympan refers to a sheet of oiled manilla paper which was securely fastened to the face of the platen of a letterpress printing machine. Underneath the tympan would be a packing which would vary in grade of firmness relevant to the type or image to be printed.
Pre-cut tympan papers were relatively expensive and, as such, were reused depending on their condition and the nature of the work.
The under packing consisted of loose fibre paper/board (sometimes known as saffron) which absorbed the impact of the letterpress principle thus avoiding damage to the hand-set or pre-cast typography or engravings.Type case
A type case is a compartmentalized wooden box used to store movable type used in letterpress printing.Modern, factory-produced movable type was available in the late nineteenth century. It was held in the printing shop in a job case, a drawer about 2 inches high, three feet wide, and about two feet deep, with many small compartments for the "sorts" (various letters and ligatures). The most popular and commonly used job case design in America was the California Job Case, which took its name from the Pacific Coast location of the foundries that made the case popular. These cases allowed type to be compactly transported.
Traditionally, the capital letters were stored in a separate drawer, or case, placed above the case holding the other letters (this is why the capital letters are called "uppercase" characters, and the minuscules are "lower case").There were a great variety of cases, and also variations in the "lay", or the assignment of the sorts into the compartments. Different printers had different house layouts even for the same design of case.Walter Hamady
Walter Samuel Haatoum Hamady (born September 13, 1940) is an American artist, book designer, papermaker, poet and teacher.
He is especially known for his innovative efforts in letterpress printing, bookbinding, and papermaking. In the mid-1960s, he founded
The Perishable Press Limited and the Shadwell Papermill, and soon after joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison,
where he taught for more than thirty years.